When Nathan Gwozdz jumps, he soars. And he does it better than anybody else in San Diego County.
Gwozdz, a La Jolla High School senior, currently owns the best high jump mark of any high school track and field athlete in the county. But having already cleared 6 feet, 9 inches this season - well above his own standing height - he doesn’t have any intentions of stopping there.
“My season is going well; it’s promising so far,” the understated Gwozdz said. “I always like to be the best. I always want to get better and compete against the best people.”
He’ll get a chance to do that this weekend, when he enters the Arcadia Invitational on Saturday, April 9.
The high-profile meet near Los Angeles brings together some of the best high school track and field athletes from around the country. Gwozdz expects the high jumpers with the nation’s top 15 marks this season to attend, and thinking about the level of competition nearly makes him drool with excitement.
“When I’m jumping at meets in San Diego County, there’s not always a lot of competition,” he said. “I’m always more concerned with putting up a mark that will compete with other guys in different parts of the state. This is the type of meet where you can see where you stand.”
Gwozdz said the Arcadia Invitational is second only to the California State meet.
He hopes to be there in June as well, and if his season continues to go well, he’ll qualify for the Nike Outdoor Nationals and the USA Track and Field Junior Nationals. Both meets are held in June.
At this week’s invitational, he said the mark to beat will be 7 feet, 2 inches, and that the second best mark in the nation is 7-0. That will give him something to shoot for.
“I’ve been training the past two weeks without a meet, so I think I’m ready,” Gwozdz said.
In actuality, Gwozdz has been preparing for the meat of his senior season his entire life.
He didn’t start high jumping until his freshman year in high school, though he had a leg up on learning the sport because his father, Jarek, had been an Olympic level high jumper in Poland when he was younger.
Gwozdz said he played baseball, soccer and just about every other sport imaginable when he was growing up, but fell into high jumping once he entered high school.
“My dad has always pushed me to do whatever I want to do,” Gwozdz said. “He didn’t push me into high jumping.”
Gwozdz’s father is his personal coach, something the senior said has aided him tremendously along the way.
“That helps me a lot,” he said. “My dad knows what my body can handle.”
La Jolla coach Chuck Boyer agreed, and said that the relationship between the two has helped his young high jumper develop into one of the best.
“I’m always wary of the dynamic between a father and a son when the father is coaching him,” Boyer said. “But his dad is very knowledgeable about all the track events.”
Surprisingly, Gwozdz wasn’t always a great high jumper.
“In high school, I started messing around with the high jump and figured out I could jump pretty high,” Gwozdz said, “so I pursued it.”
As a freshman, Gwozdz’s best mark was 5-6. He cleared 6-0 during his sophomore season, and during his junior year he reached 6-6 and went to the state meet. That meet turned out to be a disappointing experience when he failed to clear the opening height of 6-4 on any of his three attempts, but he hasn’t let that stop him this season.
In the Vikings’ first meet this year, Gwozdz broke La Jolla’s 32-year-old high jump record by clearing 6-7. Later. at the Mount Carmel Invitational, he hit 6-9 on his second try, then nearly cleared 7 feet.
“Everybody just sat there with their mouths open,” Boyer said. “On each of the three attempts, he just nicked the bar on the way down.”
Gwozdz weighs just 160 pounds, but can squat-lift twice his body weight. His strength and speed have helped make him the high jumper he is today.
“He has an incredibly fast run-up,” Boyer said. “It’s quite an athletic feat to be able to be running that fast and take that final step and direct all your momentum from the horizontal to the vertical.”
Gwozdz said improving technique comes second to getting stronger and faster.
“Those are the most important things,” he said. “Then you are able to learn the techniques. That comes a lot easier.”